Cowboys notes: New defense delivering hard knocks and forcing turnovers

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The Cincinnati Bengals may be the TV stars this preseason as the featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks. But the Dallas Cowboys were the ones delivering the hard knocks Saturday night.

The Cowboys’ defense showed again what the Tampa 2 is all about — forcing turnovers and shutting teams down in the red zone.

Dallas gave up three red-zone trips to the Bengals but allowed only 10 points. The Bengals’ first trip into the red zone — on its first possession — ended in a fumble by Marvin Jones, with Barry Church forcing the turnover and Brandon Carr recovering. On the first series of the second half, with the starters still in the game for the Bengals against the Cowboys’ second-team defense, Cincinnati had to settle for a field goal after reaching the 10-yard line. The Bengals’ only red-zone touchdown came in the fourth quarter.

The Cowboys have allowed only two touchdowns in the red zone this preseason, though opponents have been inside the 20-yard line 13 times.

Dallas, which had only 16 takeaways in 16 games last season, has forced nine turnovers and allowed only 69 points through four preseason games.

“I think guys are buying in and enjoying the system, and it works for everybody,” linebacker Bruce Carter said. “We are just having fun with it.”

Special teams struggles

The Cowboys’ special teams unit did something it hadn’t done all preseason: It gave up a punt-return touchdown. Brandon Tate returned a Chris Jones punt 75 yards in the first quarter.

“We can’t have that and have to do better,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.

In addition, Dan Bailey, who is 5 of 9 from 50 yards or more in his career, missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt wide left.

The Cowboys have covered just about everything else negative in a not-so-special preseason. They have had a field goal blocked, lost two fumbles on punt returns, allowed a 51-yard kickoff return and taken two 15-yard penalties, not to mention a 10-yard holding penalty.

The punt return came after Jones’ first punt hit the replay board. It was only the second time the center-hung board has been hit.

The 160-foot long HD screen, which is 90 feet above the playing field, was hit in the first game at the stadium in 2009. Tennessee Titans punter A.J. Trapasso hit the Mitsubishi sign that formerly hung below the board in an exhibition game.

Tanner gets long look

DeMarco Murray stood on the sideline, helmet on his head, after the team’s second series. Murray fumbled on the second play of the possession, and though he got it back and stayed in the game, the Cowboys put Phillip Tanner in the game after the offense went to the sideline.

Tanner, who did not play on offense last week, had 14 carries for 39 yards in the first half. Murray returned in the second half and had eight carries for 45 yards and a 7-yard touchdown catch in which he avoided five would-be tacklers.

First-team offense hot

The Cowboys didn’t need to see their starting quarterback, starting receivers and starting tight end in the second half. They saw enough in the first half. So did the Bengals.

Tony Romo completed 13 of 18 passes for 137 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions fora 131.0 passer rating. Romo, who won’t play in the preseason finale on Thursday, finished the preseason 26 of 36 for 367 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and a 123.3 passer rating.

Dez Bryant caught six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown, giving him 13 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown in three preseason games.

Miles Austin had four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, finishing the preseason with eight catches for 106 yards and a touchdown.

Tight end Jason Witten figures to be more involved in the regular season than he was in the preseason. He made his first catch of the exhibition season for for 11 yards.

The Cowboys’ two first-half touchdowns were the first scored by the first team this preseason.

“I think a lot of guys are doing a lot of good things,” Romo said. “Dez had a great night. Miles did great. I think we are continuing to get better and doing that every day since training camp. I think you can tell that we are doing some good things.”

Offensive line

Doug Free started at right guard, with Jermey Parnell at right tackle. Mackenzy Bernadeau moved from right guard to left guard.

Charean Williams 817-390-7760 Twitter: @NFLCharean

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